Hey, what’s up with my property tax bill?

It may be fitting that Oct. 31 — Halloween — is also the due date for payment of the second half of your property tax bill. After all, that bill can be frighteningly expensive. It can also be eerily confusing, especially in this economy.

For years as Washington enjoyed economic prosperity, we saw property tax bills skyrocket as property values rose. This led voters to approve a 1 percent levy limit through Initiative 747 in 2001 in an attempt to gain relief from those high bills. But now that our economy has turned south and many property values are down, some people’s property tax bills still remain high.

So what’s up with that? And why is the increase in my property tax statement higher than 1 percent?

Great questions — and I hear them frequently from constituents.

Initiative 747 limits the increase in total taxing district levy amounts to 1 percent each year, plus additional amounts for new construction. It does not limit the amount of tax paid on individual properties or the rate at which assessed values may increase. Additionally, voter-approved levies (such as school district maintenance and operation levies) are not subject to this limitation. So, it is possible for your property tax statement to reflect an increase of more than 1 percent.

Your property tax bill is determined by the assessed value of your property and the tax levy rate. The county assessor determines the market value of all property in the district as of Jan. 1, and comes up with a taxable value taking into account any exemptions or alternative valuation schedules. Then, taxing districts set their budget amounts (levies) and the assessor calculates the necessary tax rate.

Dividing your property value by $1,000 and multiplying that by the tax rate determines your total property tax bill, which is collected by the county treasurer in the following year after the assessment. For example, your 2009 tax bill is based on the assessed value as of Jan. 1, 2008, and your 2010 tax bill will be based on the value as of Jan. 1, 2009.

The tax rate can fluctuate with property values. While you may expect your property tax bill to decline with lower values, some taxing districts can actually increase the tax rate to compensate for some of that lost value. That’s why it is possible for your property tax bill to remain the same or even increase with the lower property value.

Voters can approve property taxes higher than the 1 percent limit. In 2008, about 35 percent of the total amount of property taxes collected statewide consisted of voter-approved levies. That includes at least one voter-approved levy increase in Sedro-Woolley.

Although there may be several reasons why your property tax bill remains high even though your property has lost value, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of tax-relief programs, if you qualify. Exemptions and deferrals are available to low-income senior citizens, people with disabilities, and widows/widowers of veterans. Certain tax exemptions have also been provided by the Legislature for all homeowners. Be sure to check with the Skagit County assessor at (360) 336-9370 for more details and to see if you qualify.

EDITOR’S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or from his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.

State Representative Dan Kristiansen, 39th Legislative District
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7967 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000